Galway and Connemara

When I, together with Samuel and Maria in 2008 joined an excursion to the Burren and Cliffs of Moher, the tour guide told us, that on the other side of the county of Galway, in Connemara, it was even more beautiful than where we were. Since then, I have had the desire to see Connemara. However, neither the time nor the money was enough last year. The time – it may sound strange, but it takes a few hours there and you should preferably have at least a couple or three days, when you travel to a really beautiful place. The dream was to rent a car for a few days and go to Connemara with one or more of my children. When I finally had money, it was winter and in the winter I did not want to go. Something changed when I got hold of a cheap used car.

April came and the beginning of the month offered beautiful weather even though it still was a little chilly. My son Samuel, who also works and lives in Dublin, flew to Malta to visit a friend, so I was not sure he would accompany me on the trip, when I decided to leave for Easter. A co-worker was interested in coming along, but then her boyfriend came over the weekend and she did not want to spend the night away. I was not disappointed in any case. Connemara attracted me and being off for four days was perfect. I booked a room at a B&B for three nights and left early on Good Friday morning. With a full tank I found my way to Galway, but ended up on the highway and had to pay toll to use it. When I discovered, that I was on the highway, there was no possibility to leave, before I had paid the charge. It was because of the signs, of course, that I did not find any other road in the right direction – maybe the highway owner (at least some of the highways here are privately owned, therefore also the tolls) had a hand in the game?

The cost was not that high and the fee applied all the way to Galway. Halfway through, however, I got tired of the highway and got off. I was lucky and found another road in the right direction. It was possible to follow that one all the way to Galway and even through the city of Galway there were no problems. I had provided myself with a special book with maps and various suggestions for excursions by car. I tried to follow the route recommended for Connemara. I also found the first place of the route – although I took a detour, because the sign for the first turn was so strangely set up, that I first drove straight ahead which was the wrong direction. In Spiddal, which I also eventually found, there would be a beautiful white sandy beach. The weather was quite overcast and the white sand looked gray, so the feeling did not really appear that this was something very special. I took the opportunity to visit the small village, refilled my cash and bought some drinks. I was not really sure that I found the right way out of the village, because there were no signposts here, but I was lucky and after a few kilometers a sign told me that I was driving in the correct direction.

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Harbour of Spiddal

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I followed the map – or rather the road, it is not so easy to read maps when driving. The signs in Ireland are partly a bit strange. Sometimes roads are very well signposted, then all of a sudden there is no sign anymore or the big town, you are on your way to, is no longer mentioned, but the next town on the road. Not a long time ago I tried to make a short excursion to our county capital Kildare and also came quite close, but got lost precisely some kilometers outside the town, because suddenly there were no more signs with the town mentioned. Until I found my way, I had driven approximately 150 km, while the right road is about half as long. At Connemara the signs on the small roads were only in Gaelic and the small villages had no signs at all. The roads went through beautiful landscapes and then they stopped somewhere by the sea. It was not so much the language that made me want to leave, but some signs, only appearing when you were directly next to them and others could barely be read. In any case, I learned that country roads with three-digit indications should preferably be avoided, because it was not certain, that they do not end somewhere by the sea or by a house. I saw much more from the countryside than I planned, of course. Eventually I found an old man outside a house, who I could ask, in which direction I should drive to Clifden, which was my destination, and referred to as Connemara’s capital. First, I was a little afraid that the old man would only speak Gaelic, but fortunately my fear did not come true. He spoke a really beautiful English – it sounded like at school. Later I discovered that the dialect of Galway and Connemara is this clear English, which of course, makes it easy to understand what people are saying. He sent me right, but I eventually ended up in the same place again, where I had been twice before and from the one I totally wanted to get away from. Luckily, I finally found a gas station where I could ask and found someone, who helped med into the right directions – only the distances the guy at the gas station mentioned were totally overestimated. The first turn was only a few meters further ahead, then I would have to drive 100 km, where I had to turn right, but I had driven much less kilometers, when a sign (!) told me, that I have to turn. I checked the odometer in my car, after 8 km I came to a T-junction. Because of, that the guy also had mentioned the number of the road, I was going to turn to the right, but I was still a little unsecure, if I really had to turn there. Then, according to the information I had received, I would drive another 50 km but now I knew that I would take this with a pinch of salt and so I turned happily to the left when I had come to highway 59 (N59). Here, of course, I could also drive faster, but that was not really possible, because the road had quite a few sharp curves and sheep were grazing on the side of the road. Unfortunately, I did not have time to take out my camera, when an ewe with her lamb crossed the road, but I was very happy, that I was not driving at the allowed speed of 80 km/h. Eventually I came to Clifden and at the beginning of the small town I called the owner of the B&B and asked for the directions. To give directions are not the easiest and people sometimes forget, that whoever asks for the direction, is not from the place, though she mentioned that I will have the Catholic Church on my right hand side. I did not know if the first church I saw was the right one, but I took a chance and this time I was lucky.

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View of Clifden with Mountains and Hills in the Background

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The B&B, which was called Connemara Country Lodge, was just a stone’s throw from the city center, but you also need to know, that almost no building here is more than a stone’s throw from the city center. When I had received the room and room key, which I had to hand in every time I left the house, but who would want to take it with them (if not as a holiday memory)? On the key ring hung an approximately 15 to 20 cm long hanger. On this was the name of the room engraved – the rooms did not have numbers. The house has twelve rooms and near Clifden there are twelve Bens – twelve mountains/hills, of which most are called something with Ben. The names on the sign were in Gaelic and written in the old style, so they took up a little extra space. Both the female owner of the house were Irish and the house in traditional Irish style. It was much like in Dalarna, Sweden where you also know what attracts tourists and therefore they take care of their customs. It was about 8pm, when I went downtown to find something to eat. I first walked a bit on the main street and then up and down the two excisting side streets, to find a place to eat. I was thinking of pampering myself. One side street had no eateries or pubs at all, but B&Bs and hostels alternated. Everyone still had rooms available. The other side had almost only pubs and restaurants: a pizza place, a chips place (where you could also buy other fast food) and a Chinese/Malaysian restaurant. I felt more like eating something Irish but most pubs and some restaurants were closed, because in Ireland it is not allowed to serve alcoholic beverages on Good Friday.

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Sign Posts

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When I took a picture of a group of signs that told me, where to find the one or the other, I almost stumbled across a sign “OPEN” of the pub where I then went in and ate. The prices were not sky high (because even though I was going to pamper myself, I was not going to live the rest of the weekend on just bread and water) and Connemara Salmon was served. I have always loved eating fish and discovered several years ago that I can eat fish dishes a few times a year without getting a rash and itching. I entered the pub and asked, if it was okay to have something to eat and they wondered if it was okay to sit at the table for two at the door. Of course, I affirmed that and soon got the menu. When I ordered the salmon dish and a bottle of mineral water, the pub owner was not very happy – I had not chosen the most expensive dish and there is probably not much profit in mineral water either. Irish people understand money, but unfortunately they cannot market themselves or their business, because they are very poor at service. Nevertheless, the salmon was excellent. When I ate, I saw that beer was served here. Something, I thought, was impossible to get hold of on Good Friday. Since I was a bit frozen, I wondered after the meal if it was possible to get an Irish Coffee. The pub owner shined immediately, said that he did not care about the ban, which I could see, because he served beer and that he has to check, if he has cream and added, that he has whiskey and coffee. A few minutes later, I warmed up with an Irish Coffee, which seemed strong at first, but soon had no taste of alcohol left. I do not know, if it was cheated a little or if a real Irish Coffee should be that way. Before I left, I gave quite a lot of tips for the sake of the good fish and even asked for a business card and you may believe what the old man was happy! Back in the B&B it was a bit chilly and when I went to bed I kept the bedspread on the bed so I would not freeze. I could hear the boiler – it seemed, the heating of the house was working with oil – before I fell asleep. I woke up early, because I was freezing and I thought, they were saving oil, because I had negotiated down the price of the room when I booked. I saw on the Internet that there were some free rooms over Easter and she still had free rooms to offer since I arrived. When it comes to heating, for me it was the worst thing, that the bathroom had no heating at all, so I needed to have the bathroom door wide open. Luckily I had a private room with own bathroom. By the way, at breakfast I discovered that there was only one more room rented. For breakfast I could choose, a traditional Irish breakfast or a European breakfast, in which the sausage and bacon were avoided. She also promised to sing for us, but it did not work out that day, because she had friends visiting her and she had to take care of them. However, she took time to ask me, what I would do during the day. When I answered, that I would go to Connemara National Park and climb mountains, she told me to go up for the Diamond Hill. In the national park, I discovered that there was no other option for hiking a mountain than this one.

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Hold to the Left, Please!

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I was well prepared for the mountain hike, I thought, when I left Celbridge, but I already discovered, that I had forgotten some things. I did not pack my hat and gloves and nothing for a lunch bag either. Luckily, the other guests at the B&B already had been to the Diamond Hill the day before and told me, that there is a kiosk in the national park, but neither hats and gloves nor lunch bags are sold there. Though I hoped to be able to buy, what I needed, in a village nearby. On the way, however, I discovered a shop, that sold home-knitted sweaters etc. I turned into the car park in front of the shop, but was disappointed because the store was closed. I went on. Fortunately, there was another store a little further away, which sold traditional, knitted sweaters, woven shawls etc. The location was very beautiful, next to a lake and with a view of some mountains/hills. There was also a small rest area there, with other words it was a real tourist trap, but just this day it was, what I needed. Here I bought a hat and mittens. Unfortunately, they had no other hats to choose from than some with the word Guinness on it and such popular models that go down over the ears and have ribbons on the side but the latter were only available in a light blue and a pink color and I really did not look good in them – by the way, I did not look good in the Guinness hat either, but a little better. The gloves, on the other hand, were only available in a single model, but they were beautiful knitted gloves, they reminded me of the sweaters that are so common here on the island. Fortunately, it was SALE on the stuff, but they price was still 100 kroner (10 EUR) for the mittens. What are ones choices, when one is forgetful? None! When I paid, I also asked for a grocery store and got the answer that there was some at the beginning of the next village. So I had to drive past the national park to get provisions. It only took a few minutes and soon I could park near the protected nature area, that consists of mountains and bogs. These bogs were formed by man felling all the forest without planting new trees. For a reason it amazed me, that a lot of Irish people also are afraid of these bog landscapes.

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I Met this Guy and he was Following me all the Time, when I Tried to Take a Photo

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The entrance to the national park was not quite as I expected. At first I did not see the car park either, but I continued driving to check what is to come and found it after a while. On one side of the car park was a small glass house with a wooden frame and directions to the Diamond Hill’s top taped to the glass. The doors could not be opened and I thought the place was closed. Some other tourists walked around that house and looked around and so did I. We found a path, that after a few minutes led to the main tourist information and a restaurant in the same house. By the way, there was a large playground nearby. At the tourist information I got hold of a map and also explained, that I have to follow the path all the way and stay to the left all the time. I could not get lost and even from a nature conservation point of view one would stay on the path. I was very happy for this path, which, in the beginning, was really wide and comfortable. Eventually it got a little steeper and the last third I wondered myself if I really could call “that thing” a path, because there were only stones adapted to put your feet on. In parts, they were so close to the chasm, that I needed to look straight at the nearest rock for not getting dizzy. It was absolutely necessary to follow the path all the time to the left, for the part of the path, that led up to the top, was to dangerous downwards. The path on the other side of the top, which went down, was more of a path and easier to lose height on, but even here there were parts where I had problems with my balance. Maybe I get acrophobia too easily, but I guess, more than I had problems with it.

I was very slow on the path up to the Diamond Hill, not only because of enjoying the different views as usual. I went out pretty hard in the beginning and quite fast, but actually had problems with headaches and my breathing was not the best either, though I had to take it really easy on the way up. Before I started on the last third of the path, where one really needed to climb the mountain, I asked a tourist, who came down from the top, if it was difficult to go up there. He affirmed it, but also said that everyone does. Usually I do not do exactly what everyone does, but when everyone can step up the mountain, I can too, of course. It was a very nice experience to meet all the different tourists there, who open minded admired the views. Their attire was as diverse as themselves. Some were dressed for Sunday excursions, others, like me, really for mountain hiking. Some walked with rubber boots, most of them in gym shoes, still others in leather shoes – even with high heels, but everyone did it, as already written, everyone reached the top. It was an unusual openness and kindness that permeated everyone and it was common to ask for help with taking photos of each other with their own cameras or offered to do it for others and then ask for reciprocity. There were a number of different languages ​​heard, in addition to English, southern European languages ​​and German were common. I did not meet any Swedes there, but since there are only about 9 million Swedes, it is not easy to be at the same time at such a remote place. I may have told you before, but many southern Europeans and especially Irish people have a hard time distinguishing between Switzerland and Sweden. On such occasions, I always feel like an ambassador for Sweden and always recommend visiting Sweden as a tourist for the sake of our beautiful landscapes.

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To the left: Part of the path, but not the worst one. To the right: I made it!

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Before leaving Connemara National Park, I visited the nature trail and the exhibition about the bog landscape. The weather had been very mixed and rain clouds were occasionally threatening us, but it never rained that day. When I was back in Clifden, the sun was shining and I sat for a long while in the garden of Connemara Country Lodge. Around seven o’clock I went down to the village to have supper. Both my clothes and I were whole and clean even though I was wearing jeans. Although I try to eat vegetarian, I felt, that I would like to taste another Irish specialty, I was thinking about eating lamb. It was at least Easter and it would be extra easy to get a good lamb dish, I thought. I do not really know, if it was because I was traveling alone or because I was wearing jeans. When I finally had found a place where they served fried lamb, I went in and asked if they took credit cards, because I was running out of cash. Yes, for sure, it was possible to pay with credit cards, but then the waiter added, that I needed to consume for at least 25 EUR. Ok, I said, it does not matter. The dish I had seen was just under 20 Euro, something to drink and maybe a dessert, one easily can come up to 25 EUR, I calculated. Those are awful prices per se, I know. On the one hand it is a popular tourist area and even though there were many vacant rooms and probably not as many diners as usual, the prices are not reduced and on the other hand it is somehow much easier to get rid of 20 Euro than with 100 Swedish kronor, because it sounds less. I do not earn 10 times as much as in Sweden, but still I can treat myself more here, despite the high prices, than I have ever been able to do in Sweden. The secret lies in the fact that the money I have left, when everything necessary is paid, such as the rent, I do not need to share with more hungry mouths anymore. However, I must admit, that I am bad at saving for the repair of my teeth, but I will really start with that now. What I want to say with that is, that it sounds very much to pay more than 250 SEK for dining out, but I lose a little bit of the value of money here, while I always find a reason to defend disposing of so much money on so little. My biggest excuse is that I can pamper me in return for being so far away from home and meeting my children, friends and acquaintances so rarely. To get back to, why I write about this pub I visited, is that they had no place for me. There was plenty of space on the lower floor, but the waitress asked upstairs if there was room for one person and someone on the upper floor wondered what time it was and then the voice said that 20 minutes later it was booked and I was denied a place. I have experienced that in Dublin as well. They do not have space for one person. If you are coming in a group of three or four, there will be space.

So I moved on and found an appealing dish on a hotel menu. It was not the place I would have had as my first choice – with white tablecloths on the tables etc (what I could see through the windows). When I went in I did not see the dining room and I asked at the reception if I could eat there. Yes, it went well, they said, but I had to sit in the lounge (on a sofa – how comfortable is it to eat there?) Or in the very shabby bar. I was now very hungry and also thought, I would get to choose the dish I had seen on the menu, though I took a seat at the bar. Here, however, they had a different menu than I had seen outside. Anyway, there was a lamb dish and with a little hesitation I ordered it. I rarely leave food but I ate nearly half of it, not because they had put on a lot, but because it was too bad, it was the way, that I would have given it to the dog only.

Well-mannered as I am, I paid before I left without complaining and then continued to the kiosk, selling chips. A portion of french fries would at least satisfy my hunger and certainly be better than that food I sat in front of a while before. When I was at the kiosk, I discovered that they sold more than french fries and I ordered a “Döner Kebab”. Everyone who has been to Germany knows the name of the dish that is simply called “Kebab” in Sweden. However, this kebab was not very similar to what I am used to. There was pita bread, ok, but first the pita bread was filled with ketchup and garlic sauce, then with a little salad and finally with a large slice of kebab meat (like a hamburger in size but much thinner). In the room you could not sit down and eat the food, therefore I had to go back to the B&B with the kebab in a bag. I had known that, before I went in there. The bag was not well insulated, so the kebab was cold despite the short way, when I entered my room. It was difficult to eat that slice of meat without a knife and fork, but the worst of all was, that the pita bread, of course, did not hold and the entire contents ended up on the table when I started eating, because the sauce at the bottom destroyed the pita bread. I thought, I did get it for my sins, of course, I would have eaten vegetarian food instead. At the same time, I decided to just buy a sandwich at the gas station the next night. I did not want to make more such experiences.

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One the Way to Keylemore Abbey I Saw this House, Former Owned of Dan O’Hara. It is told, that the owner had to leave it, Because of the Taxes for all the Windows and Their Sizes

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On Easter Sunday the weather was really sunny and nice and I drove the Skyroad, a high lying street in Clifden from which I had a nice view. I continued from there to Keylemore Abbey, a large stone house, that is something out of the ordinary and was built by a medical doctor, after he had inherited the parents’ company. He had bought the plot, on which the house stands, earlier, because he fell in love with this place, which is the most beautiful in all of Connemara, he thought. As a result, the mansion is reflected in the lake – and even when the water is rippling. This doctor, who took over the factory after his parents’ death, built the house for his wife. It took a few years to built it. In addition to that, the doctor had built a Victorian tree farm and as much trees as a forest planted. Unfortunately, the manor later came into other hands, who rebuilt and mismanaged the manor until nuns from the Netherlands took over and opened a girls’ school here. Sadly, it did not get any better than that. After a few years a part of the building burned down, but it is with the help of donations rebuilt and also extended, but indoors nothing is in its origin. The facade, on the other hand, is still as it was built from the beginning and may surprise you. The nuns are good at marketing and got donations for a church nearby. Furthermore, there is now a tourist center with a restaurant and a pottery workshop. After contributing my shard to the work of God and admiring the beautiful rooms from the past as well as walking in the Victorian garden, I ate in the restaurant, which was large and could be compared to our Swedish bar restaurants. The restaurant offered an all-vegetarian dish that I happily chose and it was no problem to get a table just for one. So I ate useful food and was not discriminated either.

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Keylemore Abbey

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On the way to the next destination, I came past the national park again. Near the entrance a guy sat on a pillar of a bridge. I thought, he was trying to hitchhike and I was right. Soon he stretched his thumb out. Out of an impulse, I stopped and wondered where he was going. Soon he sat in my car and we started talking. He had an accent and I heard, that he must come from Germany. I was right, so we spoke German with each other and he told me that he had come there by bus, but that it was no bus back until much later. He loved Ireland and traveled around as cheaply as possible, except that he used buses and trains most of the time. So I had a nice chat a bit along the way and it is always interesting to hear other people’s experiences and views. When I had dropped off my passenger, I continued to a village with a craft center that I had read about in my clever book, but I was really very disappointed. Among other things, I read about an instrument maker who makes Irish, traditional drums with goatskin, so-called bodhráns. But he was not there. There were drums that you could try to play in an isolated room, but I did not get several different sounds from it as it is described when you hold your hand against different places in the inside of the drum. I would have liked to have seen a demonstration of the master. Otherwise, there was almost only tinsel there and some department they called a café where you could hardly get a lemonade.

In another house there were a lot of expensive clothes – does the tourists pay any price ? There was also a silversmith in the same area. In part she had lowered the prices but it was not something I fell for anyway. The artists/sellers seemed obviously dissatisfied with the bad deals, because it was not just me who only watched and did not buy anything. In bad economic times, it is probably these goods that are at least missed. Disappointed, I drove from there through a small town where the streets did not have room for all parked cars, so there was a traffic jam, because there were a lot of people at the outdoor cafes with a view of the sea. This evening I took it easy after refueling the car for the trip home and buying the sandwich and something to drink.

On the night of Easter Monday, it rained a lot, that I even awoke by it, but it was warm in the house for once. At breakfast I hoped, that the weather would get better during the day, because it seemed to clear up, but unfortunately I hoped in vain. At bedtime, the day before, I had studied the maps carefully and planned to go on the other side of the island than I had come, because then I would have the opportunity to see dolphins and also be able to inspect a disused silver mine. However, the journey took a completely different turn. I had imagined, that I could follow the N59 a good distance, before I had to turn right. This time I also drove the road past Connemara National Park and around three kilometers later, I met a young man with a sign “Westpoint”. He was standing at the side of the road with a heavy backpack. It rained again, or maybe better, it was still raining, it was a bit difficult to sort out, but in any case, it was wet from the sky. I felt sorry for the poor man and asked where Westpoint was and got the impression that it was in the same direction as I was going. I still wanted to visit the mine but the rain soon increased and therefore I ignored to turn off, but drove the guy all the way to his destination. I believed, that there was no major detour, which it probably would not have been, if I had turned right in the direction of Dublin as the guide said. I thought, I would see more of Galway and decided not go straight to Dublin. There was no sign for the city of Galway. There was no opportunity to drive straight ahead and I decided to turn left. After a while i felt, that I was a little wrong and I tried to find a way to the right, but did not dare to enter the smaller roads after the experience I had made before. When I was close to Sligo, I knew, that I definitely was wrong – if you have the opportunity to find the place on the map, you will see that I had come too far to the north. The landscape had changed for a while and from time to time I had driven along the coast. The whole stretch was quite beautiful, some places were very beautiful like in a fairy tale. In order not to mislead myself even more, I looked for the next motorway towards Dublin.

It was dark, when I reached my home. It had been a very interesting day, especially by the hitchhiker. He was also German and studied political science at a university. He hitchhiked through Ireland for a month to get to know the country and learn about politics etc. He told me, that he later on will spend half a year in Norway and study at the University of Trondheim or Bergen, with emphasis on Norway’s education system. Since I told him, that I am from Sweden, we had an interesting discussion. His attitude was, that one can best get to know a country and its politics with the help of the education system. I have to give the guy almost exactly right, because here you take care of all social groups and see if and what is prioritized. However, I also think it is equally important to compare social security, by this I mean the help you can get both financially and practically when you are/will be ill, old or disabled.

These four days really had a lot to offer. I became incredibly rich in experiences even my wallet became quite thin.